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President Donald Trump has forced some of his most ardent supporters in conservative media into an awkward position as he searches for a scapegoat to blame for the Republican-controlled government’s failure to repeal Obamacare this month.
In recent days, Trump has zeroed in on the House Freedom Caucus, attacking the hardline conservative group for refusing to support Speaker Paul Ryan’s healthcare bill – legislation that he backed.
“The Republican House Freedom Caucus was able to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory,” the president tweeted on Monday.
Doubling down on Thursday, Trump tweeted: “The Freedom Caucus will hurt the entire Republican agenda if they don’t get on the team, & fast. We must fight them, & Dems, in 2018!”
Such attacks on the HFC have put pro-Trump conservative pundits like Fox News host Sean Hannity and radio host Laura Ingraham at a crossroads.
While fierce backers of Trump, such conservatives have enthusiastically supported the HFC for years, lionizing its members for standing on principle and refusing to fall in line with the GOP establishment on a host of issues.
It raises an interesting question: Will the pro-Trump faction of conservative media side with the HFC and continue to praise the group for refusing to compromise their principles? Or will these pundits turn on the group for threatening Trump’s agenda?
So far, the Trump boosters in conservative media have largely stayed on the sidelines, refusing to enter the fray.
Ingraham, who is also editor of the conservative news website LifeZette, told Business Insider in an email that “the Freedom Caucus’s input will end up making the ultimate healthcare repeal bill better, cost of healthcare more affordable.”
She declined to address Trump’s criticism of the group.
And Hannity started his Monday radio program choosing to blame the House GOP leadership for the colossal healthcare disaster, insisting it was not the fault of the HFC. When asked through a representative to comment on Trump’s attacks on the HFC, Hannity declined.
The Drudge Report and Breitbart, two of the most influential pro-Trump news sites, seemed to prefer mostly ignoring Trump’s Thursday Twitter assault on the HFC. The Drudge Report did not feature a story about the fracas. Breitbart featured a story on its homepage that included comments from Rep. Dave Brat, an HFC member who questioned who had Trump’s “ear.”
But the relative hesitancy from the pro-Trump faction of conservative media to go after Trump for his stinging attacks on the HFC has not come as a surprise to those who closely followed how Trump changed the conservative news industry.
Throughout the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump boosters in conservative media went to painful lengths to shield the then candidate from attacks originating from both within and outside the GOP.
Not much is expected to change now.
“I doubt many will blame Donald Trump for several years,” said Erick Erickson, editor of the conservative commentary site The Resurgent.
Erik Wemple, a media critic for The Washington Post, agreed. He suggested Trump’s most fierce supporters in media “threw out their conservative principles long ago,” making it easy to imagine them “side with Trump in this instance.”
While they are refusing to take a side at the moment, it seems likely that eventually the Trump boosters in conservative media will be forced to provide cover for the president. In the days that have passed since the Republican healthcare overhaul failed to make its way through Congress, Trump has only turned up the temperature on the HFC. Moreover, the group’s notorious hardline tendencies may threaten other items on Trump’s agenda, such as tax reform and infrastructure spending.
“The ‘star’ Trump media sycophants will stick with him on almost anything,” John Ziegler, a conservative media columnist for Mediaite, told Business Insider in an email. “It is too late to turn back now unless they decide to dramatically abandon ship and swim for safety.”